Feb. 10 2016 12:19 AM

The city and county of San Diego try again to help vets, mentally ill

Landlord Chris Blatt
Photo by Ron Donoho

The “new” ideas are sound. The follow-through is what will be crucial to bettering and possibly saving the lives of our region’s homeless populations of veterans and those with severe mental illnesses.

Those are the target sectors named by two separate and independent initiatives formally announced last week by the city and the county of San Diego.

Standing in front of the County Administration Building with a coterie of politicians and service providers, County Supervisor Ron Roberts oversaw a press conference announcing Project One For All. The County says it will bump up efforts to shelter and treat, per best-case practices, the 18 percent of local homeless individuals who have severe mental illnesses. That group could number 1,500 or more, according to the 2015 count by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. The 2016 count is currently being tabulated. Specific goals for Project One For All are as of yet unclear.

The city’s veteran-focused initiative is called Housing Our Heroes. Mayor Kevin Faulconer hosted a slightly-different-but-somewhat-overlapping collection of concerned leaders at his presser. The mayor’s stated goal is to get 1,000 vets housed and supported by services by the end of 2016.

Given the misfiring of previous attempts to eradicate homelessness from San Diego’s streets it should now be highly obvious that achieving meaningful success will require benchmarking both these initiatives. Remember that San Diego has climbed the U.S. rankings to the number-four city with the largest homeless population.

“We’ll certainly have metrics,” promises City Councilmember Todd Gloria, who also chairs the San Diego Regional Continuum of Care Council. “One of the big parts of what we’re trying to do as a region is be more data driven…This is about pinning down a measurable approach. I would ask that people would hold us accountable.”

Gloria notes that the city currently has money in place and already has federal vouchers in the hands of veterans who can’t find landlords who will rent to them.

Gloria also announced subsidized incentives for landlords to rent to veterans, including: $500 to landlords who rent to one veteran and $250 for each subsequent vet; assistance with security deposits and utility bills; and a one-million-dollar contingency fund for landlords to cover certain expenses, such as move-out repairs.

The mayor’s press conference was held on the driveway by the side of a residential property owned by former Navy Commander Chris Blatt. His Sherman Heights apartment building has 18 of 20 units occupied by veterans who utilize a variety of federal rent vouchers and wrap-around services. He says about 90 percent of the 60 units he owns around town are home to vets.

“A whole bunch of case workers have my phone number,” Blatt says. As a former service member he’s motivated to help his brethren. Blatt prices his rental units to be aligned with federal voucher limits, he says, and he’s usually under the local rental market.

On the incentives being offered under Housing Our Heroes, Blatt says every little bit helps. “I’m glad to see the city getting serious about this,” he says. “Some landlords will jump at it. Others won’t want to deal with the paperwork. I hope if all things are equal some [landlords] will decide to be patriotic.”

His personal message to other landlords: “Just free up one [unit]. Try it. It might be a nice change and you might find it rewarding.”

That Blatt is involved in the city’s “new” attempt to solve its homelessness problem is inspirational, but also frustrating. Upon a quick Google check, Blatt was found to be a spokesman for the cause back in 2009, when federal Section 8 housing was a rising trend. He’s also featured as a shining example in the 2012 San Diego Housing Commission annual report. Is he the only poster boy?

Blatt says the question is valid, but opines that other landlords may not be as accessible, or as hands-on. Meanwhile, let’s take Gloria up on his request for accountability—from both the city and the county.

For information about the city’s Housing Our Heroes program call 619-578-7768 or go to sdhc.org.


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